I’ve always felt a need to figure out what it takes to achieve perfect health. When I first started getting serious with the whole health & fitness thing more than a decade ago, I designed my lifestyle according to what mainstream medicine, public dietary guidelines, and conventional wisdom told me was healthy. As for my diet, I ate a lot of whole grains, restricted my intake of red meat, eggs, and other foods high in saturated fat and/or cholesterol, drank a protein shake directly after every strength workout in an attempt to take advantage of the so-called “anabolic window”, consumed several small meals throughout the day, and always ate an early breakfast – regardless of whether I was actually hungry or not. In terms of exercise, I had been doing a lot of sports and endurance training for most of my life, but as I got older, my interest gradually started to shift more towards strength training. Just like so many else in the fitness community, I started out with the typical bodybuilding-type training split where each muscle group was trained to exhaustion once a week.
I experimented a lot with new training routines, supplements, and diets, but I always kept the key ingredients of the standard model; primarily because a lot of the conventional wisdom surrounding training and eating was, and still is, so ingrained in the public’s mind – and at the time, in my mind as well. I was definitely doing some unconventional and/or “extreme” things here and there, but overall, it’s safe to say that I was doing pretty much everything society told me was healthy; I was very physically active, ate a diet based on public dietary guidelines, and lead a lifestyle that most people would consider to be very healthy. The problem: The approach didn’t make me healthy at all. My body and health were a wreak – and conventional medicine didn’t seem to have any solutions.
Why am I telling you this? Primarily to show that I can relate to all of you out there who are struggling with chronic health issues, feel you are getting little help from mainstream medicine, and/or have experienced poor results from following conventional health & fitness advice.
A better way
It took years of trial and error, mediocre results, declining health, and intense research before I realised that instead of looking to mainstream medicine, the latest trends in the health & fitness community, and public dietary guidelines for advice, I should have turned my attention towards what evolution and good science could teach me about nutrition, exercise, and health. This new perspective on things opened me up to a whole new world, and I’ve now spent the better part of a decade immersed in everything related to nutrition, ancestral health, and evolutionary health promotion.
In retrospect, I clearly see that the approach to diet, training, and lifestyle I stuck with when I first started getting serious about health & fitness has no solid scientific support, but at the time, I believed I was doing the right things. After all, most of what I did was consistent with the mix of standard advice I got from dietary guidelines, public health authorities, dietitians, and health & fitness gurus.
When I look back on my early days of trial and error with diet, training, and health, I realise that I was grasping in the dark. I had never learned about ancestral health principles or the importance of applying an evolutionary perspective to health and nutrition, and consequently, I was destined to make a lot of mistakes.
As everyone who’s followed this blog knows, the approach to diet and exercise I stuck with in the beginning – which is the approach a lot of people out there choose – has little evolutionary support. Humans clearly aren’t well adapted to eat the type of diet I was taking in or follow the high-volume, high-intensity strength training program I did.
As I started to broaden my horizons many years ago, I gradually moved away from my old way of doing things. The grain-centered, low-fat diet was replaced by a Paleo-style diet, and the bodybuilding-type training split was abandoned in favor of a more balanced training program. Many other areas of my life also received a solid injection of evolutionary wisdom.
Getting back in touch with our evolutionary roots
My overarching health & nutrition philosophy, which was sculpted through many years of trial and error and research into nutrition and health, has now stayed fairly unchanged for many years. That’s not to say that I never change my stance on certain topics, don’t have a lot left to learn, or have no nagging health issues left to resolve, it just means that the foundation that supports everything else has become firmly established. After all, it’s hard to argue with millions of years of evolution.
One of my main goals with this site is to get more people to recognize the importance of evolutionary biology and Darwinian medicine. Why? Because when you start to see things through the lens of evolution, you get a much better understanding of the world. Also, as I’ve tried to convey here on the blog, applying evolutionary theory to the understanding of health and medicine is crucial, as it gives us insights and tools we need to be able to take control of our own health.
It’s important to mention that natural selection selects for or against traits based on their effect on the fitness of the organism. It only “cares about” health as long as it impacts reproductive success. In other words, studying our evolutionary journey doesn’t immediately tell us how to achieve perfect health. However, as anyone who’s followed this blog or stayed up-to-date on the research on Paleo and ancestral health knows, looking at nutrition, exercise, etc. through the lens of evolution is important, as it gives us a good idea of what type of lifestyle and environment we’re well-adapted for; insight that lays the foundation for building a healthy and fit body. As I’ve repeatedly highlighted on this blog, Paleolithic humans were lean, fit, and largely free from the so-called diseases of civilization, a statement that is supported by several lines of evidence, including studies of hunter-gatherers and traditional people who live in environments that closely resemble those we evolved in as hunter-gatherers in the Paleolithic era (1, 2).
There has been inadequate time and selection pressure for natural selection to sculpt the human body into on that is well adapted to live in a modern, industrialized environment. To achieve a healthy and fit body, we have to align our diet and lifestyle with our primal genetic identity ( 1, 3, 4). That doesn’t mean that we have to move into the wild or adopt a strict Paleo diet. It simply means that we should keep in mind that we are still – to a significant extent – stone agers from a genetic perspective (1, 5). This is clearly of importance when we make diet and lifestyle choices, as the “physical activity, sleep, sun exposure and dietary needs of every living organism (including humans) are genetically determined” (6).
The following 7 lifestyle factors have a particularly potent impact on human health and are therefore given the most attention on this blog.
All of this is not to say that adopting a Paleo-inspired lifestyle is enough to help everyone overcome their chronic health problems and achieve their health & fitness goals. It’s certainly a natural first step for everyone, and for those who are fairly healthy to begin with, it’s usually enough. However, for those who struggle with chronic health problems of some sort, a more personalized approach is sometimes needed. If your health condition is very poor, perhaps as a result of years of poor diet and lifestyle choices or certain underlying genetic/epigenetic factors, specific diet and lifestyle adjustments or treatment protocols may be needed to really see the improvements you are hoping for (I should now, as I’ve been dealing with my share of chronic health problems over the years). That’s why Darwinian-Medicine.com not only includes basic diet and exercise tips, but also information on how to repair a broken microbiome, optimize gene expression, sleep better, etc. It’s not always easy to find solutions to complex health problems, but with an evolutionary framework to help guide our decisions, everything becomes so much easier…
Now I want to hear from you: Have you taken steps to adjust your lifestyle so it more closely resembles that of our ancient forebears? What are the current health challenges you’re trying to overcome? Do you have any tips to share with me and other readers of this blog? Post your thoughts in the comment section below.